Leading Aircraftman William John Spirrell
Not all the deaths of RAF Kenley related personnel were due to enemy action. One such was the tragic death of Leading Aircraftman William Spirrell in Devon on 7 June, 1940.
A member of 615 (county of Surrey) Squadron, William was going to a party in Plymouth with his fiancée, Phyllis West, but had decided to have a swim at The Point, Turnchapel, before they went.
Phyllis described the events at the inquest, recorded in the Daily Mirror:
He said the water was cold when he first went in and I told him not to go too far out. He did not answer and then his arms stopped moving. I shouted: All right I am coming in and jumped into the water. Just as I got hold of him, he went down. I grabbed his leg and then managed to get to a boat where I held him until help came.
A naval surgeon-commander attending the inquest said there was nothing to explain Spirrell’s sudden death. The verdict of the inquest was accidental death.
William John Spirrell was the youngest of eight children born to Frank (a farm labourer) and Mabel Elizabeth, nee Strickland, Spirrell. He was born in 1917 in Dicheat, near Shepton Mallet, and joined the RAF as an aircrafthand, later becoming an “F” Class reservist.
He had met Phyllis Charlotte West about three and a half years prior to his death and they had become engaged during 1939. She was a starch packer and lived at No.2 Point Cottages, Turnchapel, not far from where William lost his life. She later married Ernest J. E. Stansbury and died in Plymouth in 1977.
Leading Aircraftman William Spirrell is buried in Ditcheat (St. Mary Magdalene) churchyard, south-east of the church.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.